If someone has scrambled eggs for breakfast, egg salad at lunch, and egg quiche for dinner, most folks would say or think, “Wow, that’s a lot of eggs. Is that okay to eat?”
If someone else has cereal and milk for breakfast, grilled cheese for lunch, and lasagna for dinner, I would note, “Wow, that’s a lot of wheat.” Five years ago, I wouldn’t have said a thing. Someone who is lactose intolerant would probably also notice that dairy was consumed in large quantity at each meal. I might not.
One of the theories about the rise in gluten sensitivity is that people quite simply overconsume it, in basic ways that we don’t even notice, like the example above, because wheat is such a part of our food culture.
However, this is not a post about gluten.
It’s about everything else.
I’ve been wondering a lot lately whether we’ll end up overconsuming some of the other things that end up replacing wheat in a gluten-free or grain-free diet. (Or perhaps we simply overconsume, period.)
One example in our family is those eggs – although I don’t usually serve three egg-centric main dishes in a day, it’s nothing to have scrambled eggs for breakfast, grain-free coconut muffins (from Healthy Snacks to Go) for a snack, clocking in at half an egg per muffin and easy to eat two, and then grain-free cheesy biscuits (from Better Than a Box) with soup for dinner, with 8 eggs in that recipe.
I do believe eggs are healthy, so I’m not going to by swayed by the egg-white lovers or the saturated fat demonizers, but I wonder about quantity. Particularly in the dark days of winter, when chickens usually wouldn’t lay, or would at least seriously slow down production without artificial light, is four dozen eggs a week really what God intended for our bodies?
Coconut products are one of my favorite discoveries of the traditional foods lifestyle and a huge change from my previous life, when I hated all things coconut. (I think I disliked fake coconut flavor and never really knew what real coconuts tasted like.)
I’ve read advice from other real food bloggers describing ways to make sure they have coconut something-or-other at least once a day, advice about having some coconut oil with every meal, and I myself have recommended adding coconut oil in places you wouldn’t normally, like morning oatmeal, coffee, or smoothies.
And there’s the rub: as much as I enjoy and now rely on coconut products, if I really want a traditional foods perspective, how would a northerner like me possibly have consumed this many coconuts?
In Dr. Weston A. Price’s world travels, he logged many cultures who would travel and trade for fish, for example, if they didn’t live by a source of water. So it’s possible for traditional food to be found outside its boundaries a bit, but I can’t see coconuts being quite so worldwide and pervasive as fish.
If coconut flour is the only option for going grain-free, then you’re probably not doing it in a real traditional or primal manner. That doesn’t make it wrong, but don’t kid yourself about origins of a diet.
If coconut oil feels like the only way to bring down high cholesterol or lose weight, then it’s worth exploring some other options, just out of respect for the distance the coconuts traveled to help you meet your goal. I cannot believe that a good and just God would have made it so that this one food was a “wonder food” and then make it only grow in the tropics.
I could make that argument for a lot of the more exotic “superfoods” being touted on the market today. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with them, and I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t eat them, but I am pointing out that they’re probably not the only amazingly nutritive foods out there. (Unless of course we’ve tainted our food system so badly, which God could foresee, so He designed foods that would save us from ourselves that could only live in places untainted by big ag, which we could only transport and market effectively in the exact time in history that we needed them most. You see where you can end up if you keep asking questions…)
With five gallons of coconut oil in my basement, I’m really just blowing hot air and asking questions here, because I don’t plan to stop using it. I think it is wonderful…but I also think it can’t be lifted on a pedestal as the only magic bullet for anything, since much of the world isn’t designed with easy access to the product.
I’m just hoping that the body is adaptable enough to be able to utilize the good parts of the coconut, even though it’s not exactly indigenous to my piece of the world.
In the Primal/Paleo lifestyle and any grain-free baking, almonds tend to play a major role. I’ve seen grain-free dessert recipes with almond flour in the crust, almond butter in the filling and crushed almonds on top. That particular dessert was delicious, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think, “Wow, that’s a lot of almonds.”
It’s easy to have almonds in your grain-free granola for breakfast, an almond flour muffin for a snack, almond butter banana bread at lunch and almond flour tortillas at dinner.
I have to question this one even more than eggs and coconut, I think, for a few reasons. First, the difficulty in cracking the nut. If you had to gather all your own food, do you have any idea how long cracking enough almonds for two cups of almond flour would take? Oy. (And for most of us, we don’t even see the green outer hull that has to come off before the hard shell.) Shelling nuts is a long and often painful process for the fingers, and I think that almond flour muffin would start to sound less important as you worked, and you might grab an apple instead.
So can traditional diets really include so many almonds? Likely not if one really wants to mimic traditional peoples, who I do not think baked with almond flour or made pancakes with almonds as the main ingredient.
The second real question with almonds is the nutrient profile. Although I love nuts for their nutrient density, almonds raise a few potential issues:
Almonds are known to be high in omega 6s, the polyunsaturated fat that is inflammatory (think of them as the opposite on the constantly-in-the-news omega 3s, which are heart healthy and anti-inflammatory).
We all need to eat more omega 3s, because it’s all about the ratio of 3s to 6s. Opinions vary on what the ratio should be, ranging from 4:1 (more omega 6s) to 1:1 (even). Most Americans eat closer to a 20:1 ratio. (source)
In other words, as long as you’re not eating 6s in everything and getting adequate omega 3s, you may not need to worry about every little omega 6. We need to eat them, just not in excess.
Here are the real nutrition facts on one ounce of almonds, about 23 nuts:
- 3408 mg omega 6s
- 1.7 mg omega 3s
- ratio of 2004:1 (yikes!)
- However, the omega 6s are only 24% of the total fat, whereas 62% is actually monounsaturated fats (the same healthy fats in avocado)
Walnuts, touted as high in omega 3s, have in one ounce:
- 2300 mg of omega 3s
- about about 11,000 mg omega 6s
- ratio of 5:1, still omega 6s higher
Note: NutritionData.com was way off on walnuts, surprising me at first. The omega 3s were very low, but the USDA calculator and caloriecount.about.com both agreed on the above data.
From what I can tell – and this is a total surprise to me, please correct me if I’m crunching these numbers incorrectly – both walnuts and almonds are actually higher in omega 6s than 3s. Walnuts have a good omega 3 rep for a few reasons: omega 3s are hard to find, and they have enough to start satisfying the recommended daily value in just a few handfuls.
Salmon would be another food important to eat for omega 3s, ringing in at:
- 1253 mg omega 3s
- 175 mg omega 6s in a 3 oz. serving
- ratio of 1:8 (finally, something with more omega 3s for real!)
- Of course, I just read that frying salmon, our preferred method, knocks out almost all the omega 3 benefits. Le sigh.)
- 25% of the total fat is omega 3s; monounsaturated fats are actually highest in salmon as well.
Even though the stats on nuts seem pretty abysmal, compare to the ratios on corn, which are:
- Corn oil ratio: 46:1 (54% of the total fat is omega 6s)
- Frozen corn ratio: 32:1 (48% of total fat is omega 6s, but still 91% less than an ounce of almonds)
- Corn tortilla: 40:1
- Corn chips: 33:1
Is it safe to say that if your diet isn’t full of highly processed, highly inflammatory corn and soy that you’re okay with almonds? Or should anyone, no matter the rest of their diet, eat no more than a handful a day?
This guy thinks almonds should come with a warning, and that clearly no one should eat more than a handful a day, which is pretty much all you need to get a good dose of Vitamin E and other nutrients that almonds are praised for having.
His argument is based on kidney stones and oxalic acid, and he’s a doctor, although I did not follow up on all his sources. His line of thinking may be totally off the mark, but it’s another possible fault for the role of almonds in a healthy diet, particularly as a centerpiece of that diet.
Oxalic acid or oxalates are present in many plant foods naturally. For many people, they don’t cause problems, but there are a couple issues with over-consumption of oxalates (potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, and soy milk are on the “high” list, along with almonds). Calcium oxalate is insoluble, and if the body can’t get rid of it all, folks can get painful kidney stones. Gout, thyroid disease, asthma and autism are on the list of other diseases that may be impacted by high levels of oxalates.
Oxalic acid is often pinned in spinach discussions: here’s a blogger who says “avoid it” and here’s one that’s a little more balanced, differentiating between natural sources, etc. I did not follow all their sources either, because this is just one piece of a very large, very complicated picture and honestly, I don’t have the time.
This is one subject I know a little more about, although I would never claim to be an expert. Phytic acid or phytates (two sides of the same coin, basically, as far as discussing what happens in the body when consumed, even though they’re different in a scientific discussion) are “anti-nutrients” that bind certain minerals up in a form that prevents the human digestive system from absorbing them. It’s possible that eating foods high in phytic acid, like all whole grains and seeds, may even reduce the proper assimilation of the minerals you eat in other foods at the same sitting.
All nuts have this property, because as the seed of a plant, they don’t really want to be digested. Anti-nutrients prevent proper digestion – good for the plant’s potential progeny, bad for you.
Soaking and dehydrating nuts, a process often called “crispy nuts,” reduces some of the phytic acid (and makes the nuts deliciously crunchy! It’s one of the only traditional foods preparations that makes something more delicious in almost everyone’s opinion…).
However, soaking nuts and seeds doesn’t eliminate all the phytic acid, so anytime you eat almonds, you’re battling some anti-nutrients.
This only comes into play when the brown skin is still on, so blanched almonds and blanched almond flour are exempt. However, I don’t know how to get the skins off in my home kitchen, so I’d have to buy them blanched, which brings us to the last almond issue:
I discussed a little bit about the almond pasteurization law in this grain-free almond apple pancake recipe, but basically:
- Any almonds not sold by the grower must be pasteurized.
- There are two method: steam and chemical (PPO).
- There’s not a huge body of evidence to prove that PPO pasteurization causes health issues, but I’m just not a fan. If I can source almonds that haven’t been sprayed with noxious gases – even if it’s only for 3 seconds and then it dissipates – well, I’m going to.
- Steam pasteurized almonds are harder to find; organic almonds are always steam pasteurized.
OR you can buy them like I do, direct from the grower. I can’t get them blanched direct from the farm! Therefore, I have to deal with the phytic acid. And the storage. (I need a bigger freezer, I’m learning, as I research almonds today. Mine are at the end of their shelf life and I have no room for 15 pounds of almonds in my tiny chest freezer! Ack!)
So How Much is Too Much?
In French Kids Eat Everything, I was just reading this week that it’s very important for the French to eat a vast variety of foods, from day to day, week to week, and season to season.
It’s possible that a disadvantage of our modern conveniences, being able to have any kind of food, anytime, anywhere, is that we’re going against our bodies’ natural seasonal and geographical rhythms.
We buy almonds in 25-pound portions and eat quite a few of them, eat plenty of the same foods over and over (onions, garlic, peppers, carrots, cucumbers, broccoli, cauliflower, butter, ETC.), and our 4-5 dozen eggs a week and frequent coconut consumption are also suspect, so I’m not pointing fingers at anyone. I’m just asking hard questions and starting to wonder if I’m making a nutritional mistake in the name of better health…
It wouldn’t be the first mistake I’ve made…like the way I phrased the teaser to yesterday’s sunscreen post on Facebook (I really didn’t know that a ton of people get skin cancer on their face. Please read my reply near the end of the thread if you were one who pointed out my error…I learned a lot!)
What foods do you find you eat a lot of? Would they be difficult to obtain for pre-civilized man?
And one last apology…
Yesterday was not such a good day on Facebook for Katie. I learned a lot, but I also had to go buy a gallon of humility in bulk just to get through all the comments on a few updates.
This one about the fluoride content of tea, and thereby kombucha, took quite a beating. I read an article by the Orawellness team that they asked their partners to share, and I saw the sources at the bottom and noted that they weren’t all pop culture sources, and the conclusions drawn were new to me, but they didn’t send my “no sense made” sensors ringing.
The authors of the post were very gracious to folks in the comments, and although people asked good questions about their sources and conclusions, I didn’t see anyone who positively proved that the article should be rescinded or rewritten.
Since I neither drink tea nor make kombucha, you know what? I don’t really care about natural vs. manmade sources of fluoride. There are plenty of natural things that I don’t want in my body, particularly in high levels: aluminum is one example that is also in many beverages, and the oxalates discussed above are another thing that’s natural, in food (very healthy foods, like tea!), but still a potential problem.
I’m sure I have a lot to learn about fluoride, to be honest, and if we end up with a cavity problem in our family, I’d probably pretty quickly consider fluoride back in my toothpaste, not ingested, but on the surface of the teeth. I’d also do my research a lot deeper and more diligently when it really mattered to my family’s immediate health.
As it is, I can’t possibly thoroughly research every topic about health and nutrition out there. I’m only one person, and if I actually researched it all to the extent that one should, I’d never have time to actually make the food to keep my family nourished or go to the beach to even encounter the sun/sunscreen question.
So. I promise I’ll try hard not to condemn anyone’s ignorance (I may have been a little harsh in the white flour post…), and I beg your pardon when I make mistakes based on lack of knowledge. As I said in the sunscreen update post, “I’m a stay-at-home mom who strings words together online and doesn’t use her Elementary Education certificate for much anymore…and I never claim to be otherwise.”
Thanks for sticking with me, dear readers, through the common sense and and lack thereof. I just hope and pray I have more in the end than most, just like I hope my kids have more vegetables than compromise foods by the end of each week.
I’m all about finding the balance…